View Full Version : Custom Orders

04-07-2003, 06:06 PM
I hope makers will give some insights on the potential pitfalls
of taking on a custom order. What a headache it can be compared to just selling things in stock, or your own proven designs.
Has anyone had some one put down a deposit for a custom order then not be able to comeup with the final payment? Then what? It would not be so bad if it was something already in my product line which I would normally make on speculation.
Or have someone back out because it did not turn out quite the way they thought it would?
I have had great customers who were easy to communicate and work with. But now and then comes along someone who
really should not be trying to commision work. I have not been burned yet, but hope to streamline the process before even offering any services like coming up with a realistic design for their proposed project.

Bob Warner
04-07-2003, 09:48 PM
I do quite a bit of custom work. I make sure to explain, up front, that it will be "Similar" to their design. I also require 50% up front that is non-refundable. If someone really could not pay for the remaining part of the knife, and I am confident I can sell the knife, I would return their deposit. If the knife is odd in some way, I have to enforce the nonrefundable deposit because I would have difficulty selling the knife.

I had a customer who wanted me to forge a knife out of a 1" drill bit. He wanted the handle to be the drill part and the blade forged from the tang of the drill bit. It looked pretty cool but I knew I would not be able to sell it to anyone else. I explained that to him and got 100% of the price prior to starting the knife. He was happy with the final product. I would not have even attempted this knife without a gaurantee of some payment.

So far I am lucky that nobody has said they did not like the final product.

Don Cowles
04-08-2003, 06:17 AM
My thinking on taking custom orders has not changed in the last few years. I hate 'em. I don't take deposits unless there is a cash outlay for special materials, but I feel a degree of pressure that is simply not there when I feel free to experiment.

I can start a batch of 5 or 10 spec knives, and if I booger a couple of them up somewhere in the process, I can set them aside and come back to them when I feel like it. Because I am basically a klutzy guy, I do make mistakes on a fairly predictable basis.

On a custom order, I am forced to make at least two (and often 3 or 4) of the piece being requested, since, by definition, it is something I have probably not done before, and I might not have all of the techniques worked out. This gives me the grace to make a mistake or two, but it also doubles (or quadruples) the cost.

Even if a customer is laid back about delivery time, I feel under enormous time pressure with custom orders. I know it is self-imposed, but that does not make it any less real for me.

I would much rather take my time with the design and execution of a new knife, and when I get it to a point that I am proud to put my name on it, offer it for sale. So far, this has been a luxury that I haven't been able to afford, but I keep hoping.

04-11-2003, 09:13 AM
I agree with the previous post and have experienced the same. I used to think it was great to be getting orders all the time and perhaps it is. However I have found that no matter what I make someone "wants it". If I really want to move a knife then all I have to do is to deside to keep a peticular knife back for myself in a personal collection. A few times I have sold one kept back but try to comvience them to wait for me to make them one of that same style. I think the knife business is unlike any other business at least in some ways. I do have other interest but for the last eleven years knifemaking has been my primary business. My store is in the country between a mid size town Joplin, MO and a small town Neosho, MO and some folks think that I live in the boonies and others think it is near or almost in town. I used to have two signs on the highway for a few years but have none now since one was removed by a tornado and one by the construction of a new highway. My business seems to continue to grow without the signs or advertising except I do have a website. I think this says a lot for "word of mouth" advertising. I have a small display store in the front of my shop and when folks drop in weather they spend $300 dollars or nothing I treat them all the same, always ready to answer their questions. I figure if a knife isn't in their budget at that time it might be in their friends budget that they will talk to about my knives & shop. That has paid off more than once. Besides I just like being nice to folks. I have respect for all of God's creation and don't mind letting them know.
I have been in lots of situtations in my life and in most cases have been able to treat people the same way I would expect to be treated in a similar situtation and so usually get along great with everyone. At this time as far as "knife orders" I only put them on a list "with no promise" as to a delivery date but only if they insist on getting on the list. Nothing beats a satified customer for getting the word out. One fellow was in my shop a couple weeks ago and there happened to be a few others there at the same time (this doesn't happen often) and he was talking about one of the two knives he had which were some I had made a few years past, saying that the one had stuck and skined a wild hog and also skined eight deer. He made the statement that he had never seen a knife like it. I told him that I couldn't begin to buy advertising like that. Anyone should make the best knife they can today and then try to improve on the next one. I seem to make a lot more knives when I'm not working on spefic orders and I enjoy it a lot more. Also as Don said if you mess up then all you have is a new style (then you have to duplicate that) ha! Not sure this will help you any but I could write for days about knife making and as a business but at the same time I feel that I have just touched the tip of the iceburg. Sorry if this was too longand boring. I have not posted much in the past but have decided to work in a little more time for sharing when possible. I think it is always important to start at the beginning and not skip all the pages to get to the end (knife business). No matter what is said, we all learn something from each other and others experience.

Have a good one!

george tichbour
04-12-2003, 05:07 AM
Given a choice I would not take customer designed orders at all but I do. The main sticking point is that some people have difficulty translating that vision in their mind to paper. You soon get a feeling when talking with them that this is the case and that is the time to walk away. Others who understand the custom knife industry give you the basic parameters and let you go. Even with these ones a detailed written order confirmation is in order if for no other reason than to confirm that YOU understand what the customer wants.

The ones that I get a real chuckle out of are the ones that come in with a CAD designed drawing with radius's precise to .001" and overall tolerance +/- .002" and such....I can barely control myself.

All said, custom work helps expand your horizons and pushes your envelope to make you more flexible.

04-13-2003, 03:58 PM
The good vs. the bad on custom orders.
If you take an order, be prepared to make three, one to please, and two to sell. If you just make one, he won't like it for some reason. If he gets to choose, he feels like he got the best, and you still have two knives to make up the difference on.
Custom orders are the only ones you will have to eat if not what was expected.(and it never is exactly what was in their heads when ordering)Communication is the best tool to overcome this drawback.
15 pages of blueprints, built to exact specifications, and still there is something wrong, and it does not have to be your fault.Plan on it.It IS the nature of the beast, so to speak.
You work on deadlines,are limited in creativity, and have to work much harder than freelancers.
The good, you know where your paycheck is "supposed" to come from, and you can make some customer'REALLY" happy if it is done right.
Freelance is what you want, when you want it, THEN find a way to sell it.Maximum enjoyment of the craft, but no guaranty of turning it into money.

Custom orders are probably the hardest way to make it in this field, but if you do good at it, there is a whole other market out there.
Remember custom does not mean handmade.